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Title: An Investigation of Extreme Cold Events at the South Pole
Abstract From 5 July to 11 September 2012, the Amundsen–Scott South Pole station experienced an unprecedented 78 days in a row with a maximum temperature at or below −50°C. Aircraft and ground-based activity cannot function without risk below this temperature. Lengthy periods of extreme cold temperatures are characterized by a drop in pressure of around 15 hPa over 4 days, accompanied by winds from grid east. Periodic influxes of warm air from the Weddell Sea raise the temperature as the wind shifts to grid north. The end of the event occurs when the temperature increase is enough to move past the −50°C threshold. This study also examines the length of extreme cold periods. The number of days below −50°C in early winter has been decreasing since 1999, and this trend is statistically significant at the 5% level. Late winter shows an increase in the number of days below −50°C for the same period, but this trend is not statistically significant. Changes in the southern annular mode, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, and the interdecadal Pacific oscillation/tripole index are investigated in relation to the initiation of extreme cold events. None of the correlations are statistically significant. A positive southern annular mode and a La Niña event or a central Pacific El Niño–Southern Oscillation pattern would position the upper-level circulation to favor a strong, symmetrical polar vortex with strong westerlies over the Southern Ocean, leading to a cold pattern over the South Pole. Significance Statement The Amundsen–Scott South Pole station is the coldest Antarctic station staffed year-round by U.S. personnel. Access to the station is primarily by airplane, especially during the winter months. Ambient temperature limits air access as planes cannot operate at minimum temperatures below −50°C. The station gets supplies during the winter months if needed, and medical emergencies can happen requiring evacuations. Knowing when planes would be able to fly is crucial, especially for life-saving efforts. During 2012, a record 78 continuous days of temperatures below −50°C occurred. A positive southern annular mode denoting strong westerly winds over the Pacific Ocean and a strong polar vortex over the South Pole contribute to the maintenance of long periods of extremely cold temperatures.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1924730 1543305 1245663 1141908
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Climate
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1761 to 1772
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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